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Sweet Oliver Pollies

January 3, 2011

I’ve recently read Leviathan, by Scott Westerfield – it’s quite good, and I would recommend it to anyone who’s interested in steampunk and history. Westerfield creates a universe that’s as original as it is engaging, and it differs from most steampunk works by setting the story in an alternate universe Europe during WWI, instead of the somewhat overused and cliché Victorian London “what ho guv’nor” that most people immediate think of.

(Incidentally, does it strike anyone else as odd that in popular perception steampunk is mainly set in England, while cyberpunk is mainly set in the States or Japan? Anyone recommend a few alternatives for me to read is welcomed to. I say bring on the old-timey clockwork samurai and the Scottish cyberspace loggers. Preferably at once. Now there’s a book I’d definitely read.)

Anyways, Alex, the main male protagonist, was likeable enough. He’s the sort of child-royalty type 3B, from a nomenclature I had just made up. Child-royalty type 3 is the whole dark-haired wide-eyed “But I just want to be normal Papa and play with the other children in normal clothes instead of these ridiculously stiff robes” but the sub-group B means that he’s also the responsible type of normality-longing royal figure. I found it interesting to have a mature child capable of comprehending responsibility and looking ahead beyond where the next jammy doughnut is coming from. I actually can’t watch most movies because of this –I can’t stand man children of thirty-three trying to tie his shoes without stabbing himself. That’s sad, not funny. I became capable of tying my own shoelaces without stabbing anyone at the tender age of fifteen, so take that.

Uh, anyways. What I wanted to talk about was Deryn Sharp. She’s the second protagonist, and she’s a plucky and adventurous girl type 4A. You know the type. The tomboyish, rough and ready, scrape-her-knees-and-ruin-her-dress type that so proliferates in YA novels. The subgroup A means that she’s a prime specimen, if to the point her characterization lacks serious depth. She fits the trope so perfectly that it makes her dull and forgettable in the worst way. I feel as though I have a moral obligation to cheer for her, and I do, but I found myself wishing a bit darkly that something terrible would happen to her soon as to force some character growth. Maybe her breakfast porridge would be slightly undercooked or some small and terribly cute critter would widdle on her boots.

But back on topic, I wanted to talk about this plucky and adventurous girl type 4 thing.

It makes sense in a lot of ways. For most of history in most cultures, boys had more freedom then girls. And I’m not just talking about the liberty that comes from being able to pee out the window of a speeding vehicle. If I had to go back in time to do anything, I would probably grab a pair of pants and some loose shirts too. But in quite a lot of these stories (more of them then you can shake a stick at. But why would you want to shake a stick at them? Some pondering is required.) the female characters go beyond just pretending. Deryn Sharp in this case, mentions at one point that she feels happier dressed as a guy. In Tipping the Velvet, another Edwardian-era YA novel, the protagonist Nancy mentions how she feels more at home, more right, when she wears a boy’s suit. These ladies aren’t just talking about the exhilaration of being freed from the rigid constraints of society’s hold on women – they like dressing and being a guy. Period. Transexual or genderqueer, maybe – who knows. But the point is that women who want to be like men are celebrated (well, in a certain kind of way. The sort of as-long-as-they’re-not-too-much-like-a-man way.) Tomboys are portrayed as superior to the girly-girl.

Boo on that, but that’s a rant for later.

My point is, what about boys who want to be girls? Surely there must be boys out there in ~*Fictionland*~ who would feel freer and happier if they’re allowed to wear dresses and silk stockings. The same way that Sweet Polly Olivers feel more comfortable as a boy, Sweet Oliver Pollies must feel more comfortable as a girl. I can totally think up a plot right now that can incorporate that:

Note: Do your own dramatic Don LaFontaine voice here.

Two hundred years into the future – humanity has terra-formed and colonized other planets, and there exists a secret society of elders who holds the delicate balance of planetary politics in their hands.

*dramatic instrumentals*

A mysterious figure inside the organization is suspected of using underhand tactics and chromosome-targeted technology to brainwash young girls sent to the Interstellar Academy. To infiltrate this intricate web of deceit and political intrigue, fourteen year old Arthur Donuts is sent disguised as a girl to the Academy.

*more dramatic instrumentals*

Can he uncover the truth? Will he ever learn how to braid his own hair? Does he prefer short minidresses to tight trousers? Why is everyone is space wearing go-go boots? A SPACE OPERA of ACTION, ADVENTURE and EXCITING SEXUALITY QUANDARIES. Set IN SPACE! With 1000 elephants!



You see? Not difficult. Scrape off the massive amount of cheese and we’ll be good to go.

Images are from Keith Thompson, the official illustrator

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